Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill

Monday, December 16, 2013


May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp and peace in your heart. - Eskimo Proverb

This weekend, I saw the movie, The Book Thief, and my thoughts have been with it ever since...similar to how it is for me when I've finished a great book and can't get it out of my mind (of course, the movie was based on the book).  While I've seen many films set during the Holocaust and World War II era, this movie's message has stayed with me, perhaps for the meaning of hope, the importance of peace and how words factored into survival for the characters.

As a writer and someone who loves to read, I enjoy words that give me peace and make me think.  I especially appreciate poetry and lyrics which paint a picture of contemplation and expressiveness (think paint to canvas).  In my opinion, one of the great lyricists was the late Dan Fogelberg.  Ironically, today marks the anniversary of his passing six years ago and, while this post isn't meant as an homage to the late artist, I think it warrants a mention of how great a poet he was.  It's something special when lyrics read as poetry and have meaning.  While the music adds to the beauty, the words stand alone.  Dan Fogelberg had that gift of creativity.  Some of his lyrics follow this entry...forget why or how he wrote them and, for the time being, silence the music that accompanies them. Just read the words.

As I write this post, the snow is falling outside and my dog is resting at my feet...a peaceful scene.  In closing, I wish all a relaxing Christmas and holiday season. Share with all you love and find meaning and purpose in what you do with your lives.  Do well and be kind.  Peace to all.

"Shallow rivers run between us where a stone may never sink
Though we taste, we are left thirsty for a deep and soulful drink
Narrow channels, barely open, fraught with dangers out of view
In the current, we are helpless - still I cling to you..." - Shallow Rivers, Dan Fogelberg

"Stood out in the rain
Let it soak me down
Before I called you...I called you
Didn't see me there
Hidden by the rain beneath your window...but I saw you
Putting on your face before the mirror on the wall
Dreaming that the looking glass was me..." - Stars, Dan Fogelberg

"I was born by a river rolling past a town
Given no direction...just told to keep my head down
As I took my position, a man fired a gun
I was so steeped in tradition I could not run
I was raised by a river weaned upon the sky
And in the mirror of the waters I saw myself learn to cry
As the tears hit the surface I saw what had been done
I gave feet to my freedom and I did run..." - The River, Dan Fogelberg 

"I saw you running
Ahead of the crowd
I chased but never thought
I'd catch you.
You said you loved me
But you had to be free
And I let you.
Why did I let you?
We walked together
Through the gardens and graves
I watched you grow
To be a woman.
Living on promises 
That nobody gave
To no one.
They were given to no one..." - The Last Nail, Dan Fogelberg

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

I'm not sure where I was going with this short story, but it ended up as a dream sequence.  It's a strange, little flash fiction piece I wrote that I'd like to share.  As always, copyright applies.  (©Veronica Randolph Batterson)

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

The man took the path.  He had three from which to choose and selected the one closest to him.  The rays from the sun slanted through the tree branches and made natural spotlights, lighting his way in the beginning.  Birds chirped and leaves rustled.  The breeze touched his skin.  Glancing at his bare arms, he noticed the gooseflesh appearing but didn’t feel cold. 
He began to walk.  His natural gait was off and he felt his body gliding along the footpath.  He saw his legs take steps, but couldn’t feel the ground under his feet.  Images started moving before his eyes, as if being controlled by a slide projector.  Image.  Click.  Image.  Click.  He could even hear it.   There he was as a child, with his first pony.  Then a sour-faced teenaged him replaced it.  A still of his wedding appeared.  He was happy, but she was there in the background, smiling at him with his new bride.  The sight of her made him catch his breath.  His heart ached. 
The photos ended and he found himself in a forest.  It had grown darker and quieter.  A stained glass window suddenly appeared, blocking his path, but he couldn’t stop himself from moving toward it.  Rays of light broke through the trees and played upon the panes of red, yellow and green.  The shafts of colored light danced across his face, making it difficult to see, but he knew he was heading right for the glass.  He braced himself for the impact, but felt nothing.  The glass shattered all around him, never cutting his skin but shards covered his body. 
Suddenly the forest parted before him and the path opened to a meadow.  The shards of colored glass rose from his skin and flickered in the sky, painting the arch of a rainbow over the blue.  Flowers appeared, dotting the green landscape as if being applied by an artist on canvas.  He watched the scenery come to life then he heard a breath being given to what he saw.  The rush of a brook as the water skimmed the rocks, the screech of a hawk spotting its prey and the doleful howls of a pack of wolves. 
Movement near a copse of trees made him jump.  She was pale, her body translucent as she stepped forward.  A crown of flowers rested on her head; the gold of her hair played down her back and over her shoulders, covering the white dress she wore.  She stared for a moment as if he looked familiar to her and then turned away.  He cried out but made no sound.  Oh, how he remembered her. 
The woman then turned and walked toward him.  She was close and he could remember the attraction and love.  Her blue eyes were inviting as he leaned close to kiss the spirit, to recall what he missed.  But the trusting eyes saddened as she stepped away.  Her form became smaller but other spirits appeared in his vision.  People he knew.  Some he’d forgotten.   
The sight of them caused a conflict of emotions.  Sadness, remorse, shame, yearning, happiness.  These souls had been part of his life.  Some he’d treated well, others he hadn’t.  Why were they here now? 
The woman looked over her shoulder at him.  He wanted her to come closer again, but she raised her arms toward the sky, swaying to music only she could hear.  The others followed her and slowly they disappeared from sight.  He tried calling out again, but his voice failed.  The blessed spirits of his life were gone.
Darkness replaced the bright colors.  He couldn’t see anything but felt his body moving, then dropping suddenly as if in a freefall.  He became dizzy and closed his eyes, fearing what might appear before them.  Abruptly, he stopped and the only sound he heard was his own breathing.  Steady and calm.  Over and over.  Then he slept.   

©Veronica Randolph Batterson  


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Non-Profits and Giving

It's the end of October and some of us are beginning to think of the holidays.  Fall foliage paints the landscape with beautiful hues of color, the weather turns cooler and furnaces hum to life for the season.  Store shelves are stocked with candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters (and for people like me who try to avoid buying it until the last minute).  Pumpkins turn into Jack-o-Lanterns, mums grace the porches.  Thanksgiving plans get rolling with menus, locations and travel ideas being discussed.  Then there's Christmas, Hanukkah, New's Year Eve and Day.  It's a busy time.

It's also a busy time for charities.  Many people wait until the end of the year to donate to non-profits and most of us support organizations that serve a cause we believe in.  But if you're new to giving or if you are looking for a new direction in which to donate, charitynavigator.org is a great website to get you started.  Vital information is provided on all non-profits listed on this site (for instance what percentage of money donated actually supports the cause versus the percentage used for expenses/overhead, etc.).

Of course, not all non-profits are listed on the charity navigator website.  A few of the ones I support aren't, but they still do significant work and need our support.  The list below includes organizations that I feel are important.  Included are St. Joseph's Indian School which serves the Lakota/Sioux children and their families of South Dakota, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a refuge for elephants that are old, sick or retired from zoos or circuses, Monero Mustangs Sanctuary is located in New Mexico and rescues wild horses native to the area, Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry is a food bank located in Naperville, Illinois.

Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry
Greater Chicago Food Depository
American Red Cross
Northern Illinois Food Bank
National Trust for Historic Preservation
World Wildlife Fund
St. Joseph's Indian School
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
The Elephant Sanctuary
The San Diego Zoo
Best Buddies
Spina Bifida Association
4 Paws for Ability
Special Olympics
Monero Mustangs Sanctuary

Donations are accepted year-round, not just year-end and in addition to monetary gifts, some gladly take non-perishable food items, clothing, toys, etc.  If you have personal time to give, volunteer.  Sometimes that's what it takes to make you feel as if you're making a difference.  And you are.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

La Folie

While I continue to await the fate of my latest novel (the manuscript is still out with literary agents), I'd like to share another short story I wrote recently.  "La Folie" is not quite flash fiction, but is a short enough read that I hope you take the time to enjoy it.  As always, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson).

La Folie

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

 The woman danced.  She clutched the baby to her breast and let the sound of the music carry her feet across the room. 
Gracefully she moved and as light as a feather, her toes touched the floor for a split second before the next step continued the motion.  Hips swaying, she arched her back, feeling the song in her heart as it traveled through her body.  Her movements were effortless and sensual.  Those who watched were entranced, unable to take their eyes from her form.
It had been her life.  Dance.  The dream, the classes, auditions and rehearsals.  The hard work paid off and she’d performed across the finest stages in New York and Europe.  Everyone came to see her. 
“Yes, they all came to see,” she whispered.
Pivoting sharply, the woman shifted the child to one arm while grasping the folds of her skirt with the opposite hand.  The silk, organza and tulle made soft swooshing sounds as the fabric brushed against her calves.  She danced with abandon, eyes closed as if in a trance, never loosening her hold on the baby.
Paris had been her favorite, she remembered.  The city was alive with people; bistros and outdoor cafés bustled with business and artists flocked to the area to work.  It was the one place she fit in and it was the city in which he’d found her.
That memory caused her to stumble, shaking her from the trance and causing her to grip the child protectively.  She refused to remember, focusing on her movements to help erase all thoughts from her mind.  It was the only way.  But her thoughts kept interrupting.  It was an annoyance that wouldn’t allow her any solitude.
“What is wrong with her? Do you think she’s ill?” the voice whispered.  Her mind recalled the questions but it seemed she was just hearing them for the first time.   Just dance, she insisted, pushing the voices from her head.
But her movements became erratic.  No longer fluid and graceful, the woman‘s motions were shaky and she faltered, all confidence broken.  Her feet felt heavy and she was suddenly clumsy.  Memories did that to her and she became frustrated.  He had no right creeping into her brain again.  She was safe now, they told her.  Just not safe from those horrid thoughts.
“Poor woman,” the voice said in English. 
“Oui.  La folie,” came the French response. 
Madness.  She spoke enough French to recognize what they meant.  They thought her insane.  Sometimes she wondered it herself.  At other times, her thoughts were clear and she could rationalize and process her life and where it had led her.  It was in those times that she knew he had been responsible for her escape into the folds of lunacy.
She no longer heard the music.  Slowly opening her eyes, reality returned in a rush, causing her to catch her breath at the ugliness.  Looking down, her baby stared back with blank button eyes, its vinyl arms extended in a frozen form.  Her feet were bare and dirty, the cotton of her dress hung limply on her thin body.  She touched her face and felt the swollen jaw.  If she had a mirror, her reflection would reveal a cut lip and black eye and years of faded bruises that never completely healed, instead marking her face with the shame she’d endured.
The sting of a tear fell on her injured lip.  A fist to her face and a stillborn child were images that played through her head like a movie reel on repeat.   Black and white, over and over.  She pressed her hands to her temples and willed it to stop, but other thoughts took over, filling her mind with sadness.  Her memories were real now, lucid.
She had met him in New York, a rich man with powerful connections.  She was young and naïve, looking for that big break as a dancer, but struggling to make ends meet.  He came in for coffee where she worked.  Before she knew it, he was wooing her with money, expensive gifts and promises of introductions to famous Broadway producers.  She no longer had to worry about rent or food.  He moved her into her own apartment and, for a while, she was dazzled by his charm and attention.  But things began to change after a few months.  He started coming up with excuses when he couldn’t see her.  And those promises of business introductions never materialized. 
Finding herself alone one evening, she called a friend and they met for drinks.  When she came home, he’d been waiting for her, angry.  That was the first time he ever hit her and if she’d had the courage, it would’ve been the only time.  Instead, she stayed.  Months turned to years and all she did was get older.  The control and abuse extinguished her ambition and will to live, until she discovered she was pregnant.  Knowing if she stayed, the child could be harmed, she fled to France with the help of a friend.
She lived in Paris for six months, slowly looking at life a little more brightly, until she saw him one day, waiting for her outside her little flat.  There was no time to scream, as he grabbed her and barely waited until they were inside before the beatings started.  An intervening neighbor saved her life.  He fled before authorities could get there. 
Her child did not survive.  The despair made her unable to cope and she retreated into the fantasies her mind provided her.   There, she danced and her baby lived.  It was a safe place for her to be.  It was happy.
She clutched the doll tightly.  Her head hurt and she wished the memories would stop.  If she started screaming, the nurses would give her a sedative to calm her.  But she’d learned that while drugs removed the pain, they also prevented the descent to her other world.  She didn’t like the soulless state those narcotics put her in.
Closing her eyes, she thought she heard music.  Yes, there it was.  Returning to her like a long lost friend.  She embraced it and gave in to it, relaxing as she moved.  Once again mother and dancer; once again on the finest stages where everyone came to see.

©Veronica Randolph Batterson

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pen Pal Era and the International Youth Service

I'm revealing my generation and age in this post but both are needed to explain the topic and why it makes me feel a little nostalgic. 

It was the late 1970s.  I learned to type, not "keyboard" as my children did, in a typing class using a manual typewriter.  Eventually, I upgraded to an electric typewriter and thought it pretty advanced at the time.  There were no personal computers or cell phones, so text messaging and instant anything were things of the future.  Our world wide web was found in libraries that offered reference books and encyclopedias.  Anyone remember the Dewey Decimal System?  What about pen pals?

In 1977, my high school French teacher believed in cultural exchange through an organization called the International Youth Service (IYS).  Founded in 1952 and located in Finland, the IYS was an international penfriend organization.  For a small fee per address, the IYS matched students (between the ages of ten and twenty) around the world.  Pen pals were found based on age, country, interests and language abilities.  Of course, my French teacher suggested we request students from France, but the beauty of IYS was your name went into a "pool" of students.  This allowed the opportunity to have multiple connections from all over the world.  And I did.

I communicated with several students from Italy, Northern Ireland, England and France.  Some lasted only through a few letters.  Two of them, however, shared letters, postcards, photos, birthdays and Christmas celebrations with me from 1977 until I graduated from college.  Then, as with everyone, "life" started and we all got too busy to write letters.  Contact was lost.  Unfortunately, the pen pal generation ended, as I knew it, and IYS closed its doors in 2008, stating it couldn't compete with the Internet.

It was the Internet that actually allowed me to reconnect with one of my friends.  I received a Facebook message a few years ago from someone asking if I knew one of my former pen pals.  The message came from my friend's daughter and her mom had been looking for me.  Fortunately, my maiden name is part of my full name on Facebook.  She might not have found me otherwise.

From that point on, my friend and I have picked up where we left off, catching up and sharing our lives through emails instead of postal letters.  She still lives in Milan, Italy and is a successful businesswoman.  Luckily for me, her English is perfect.  She refuses to get a Facebook page, but her daughter and I are trying to convince her to change her mind.  Maybe she'll come around to it someday.

As for my other friend, I think I've found him via Google.  When we were young letter writers, he was training to become a chef.  He eventually left Northern Ireland to live in London, and in his letters he'd often explain the training he would go through.  I found my box of letters from that time (I still have all of them) and in one he'd described going to a Bob Dylan concert in London in 1981.  In another, he mentioned going out in London (1981) to "celebrate the wedding of Di and Charley" even though it meant nothing to him.  Recently, when I searched his name online, I found a chef with his own restaurant in Ireland, which seems to being doing well.  I'm happy for him and hope to make contact one day.

I'm surprised, but pleased, the IYS was able to stay operational as long as it did.  I'm also sorry that the younger generations can't experience connecting with people the way I did.  Yes, it's easy and immediate now but at the same time probably less personal.  In my opinion, it's the same with sending Christmas cards (a tradition we still follow).  Nowadays, people send holiday greetings via email, and that's okay.  Times change and eras merge.  Letters rarely go via the USPS, or snail mail as it's commonly referred to now (Pony Express in the old days).  Fast, high-speed, instantaneous...all adjectives to describe our lives today, and the way connections are made around the world.  Perhaps remembering how things were once done helps us appreciate the now.  It does for me...while I readily become nostalgic, too.

Monday, July 29, 2013

O Mio Babbino Caro

For my latest blog post, I'm sharing a short story that I recently completed.  The title is "O Mio Babbino Caro" and it is a story of lost love, aging and dying and the significance of a Puccini aria (which is also the title of the short story) to the couple in the story.  As usual, I'm appreciative of all who read my blog. Thank you and, as always, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson).

O Mio Babbino Caro

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

The old man blinked.  His vision was cloudy but he knew someone was standing in front of him.  He could barely make out a shape, but he sensed it was a woman.  The scent told him so.  He’d long since lost his vision and the ability to taste much of anything, but his sense of smell was as sharp as ever.  And the smell was perfume.  It was a fragrance that took him back to a time he was recalling more often lately.
She was saying something to him.  He was trying to listen but it was difficult to hear.  He’d lost that, too.  The hearing aids no longer helped much so he’d stopped using them.  He tried to concentrate, straining his ears but he couldn’t make out the words.  The woman’s voice continued causing him to wonder if the person standing in front of him was even saying anything.  Damn it, was he losing his mind, too? 
Then he heard the music.  The sounds from the violin were clear and sweet and took him back just as the fragrance did.  She was smiling at him, and he could now see her face.  The brown eyes were soft as they gazed back at him, and she began to hum along to the music.  It was more than familiar to him.  It had been their song.  The beautiful aria from that silly Puccini opera had mirrored their lives.  At least he had thought so.
“O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.”
She would always translate for him, singing the Italian lyrics, then translating the meaning to English. She’d done it so many times that he remembered, even after all this time, the meaning.  “Oh my beloved father, I love him, I love him!”
He smiled as he remembered.  Oh, Sophia, he thought as he closed his eyes.  The longing and sadness for something that never was threatened to envelope his heart as strongly as it did decades ago.  He had loved a woman he couldn’t have.  She loved him in return.  Parental interference doomed their fate, sealing their separate lives.  Emptiness followed.
He had been a young, American art student studying in Rome when he met Sophia and her family.  Her father had hated him instantly.  It was Easter and a long holiday weekend loomed for him, as his friends were spending a few days in Greece.  He hadn’t the money to travel, so he stayed behind.  His apartment felt empty with everyone gone, so he’d wandered out for the evening and found himself amongst tourists, sitting at an outdoor café in Piazza Navona. 
Crowds moved in and out of the nearby Pantheon, with most stopping to pose for the obligatory photo in front of the historic structure.  Children played tag and parents bustled them closer.  The atmosphere was light and laughter rang through the twilight, enhancing the charm of the evening.
“Scusi,” a female voice interrupted his trance.
She stood before him smiling, the young woman he’d noticed in one of his classes.  The one with the soft brown eyes and smile that could light the night.  He recovered his wits and stood.
“You are the Americano, sì? The one in my class?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“May I join you?” came her voice.
He nodded and blurted, “I’m happy you speak English. My Italian is almost non-existent.”  That made her laugh, he remembered, and gave him confidence.  They sat together and shared some wine, talked of life and who they were, what they thought of the world and their hopes for the future.  Time passed quickly and a shadow suddenly appeared, even though the sun had long said goodnight.
“Sophia,” the masculine voice bellowed, “Vorremmo andare a casa.”
Behind the voice stood a stern faced man and next to him was his wife.  Sophia’s parents.  The tone and look of the man were enough to make Sophia rise without question.  “I must go,” she whispered, slipping a piece of paper discreetly across the table to him.
“Ciao,” she said more loudly, turning to leave, and added, “Buona Pasqua!”
Happy Easter, he understood, as she walked away with the couple.  He watched until they were no longer distinguishable, blending into the mass of people enjoying the night.  Glancing down, he opened the note.
“Tomorrow, noon, Trevi Fountain,” she’d scribbled on the paper.
That time couldn’t get there soon enough, he thought, remembering how he got to the location an hour early.  The beautiful fountain was swarming with tourists, many tossing a coin over their shoulders into the water in hopes of returning to Rome one day.  A ritual for all who visited the fountain and something he had yet to do.  Perhaps he’d have a reason to do so, afterall.
She greeted him with a smile, touching his arm as he turned toward her.  Sophia was wearing large-framed sunglasses with dark lenses. The sunlight, reflecting on the water in the fountain, danced across her face and highlighted the caramel and chestnut colors in her dark hair.  An awkward silence was brief, as a child squealed with delight at a bird that fluttered too close.  They laughed in response and their nervousness vanished, allowing a comfortable ease to settle between them.
That spring went by quickly, he remembered.  They spent most of their free time together, meeting after classes, taking walks along the River Tiber, spending Sunday afternoons lounging in the Villa Borghese gardens and eating gelato.  He’d found time for them to be alone together in his apartment, too.  Her kisses made him dizzy and the sweet perfume she wore would always make him remember.  They would lie together on his bed with the window open and that was when he’d first heard the aria. It was as if the wind carried the tune up to them, drifting in the breeze and fluttering past the curtains for their ears only. 
O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.  Vo’andare in Porta Rosa a comperar l’anello!”
Sophia sang along, her voice close to his ear as he held her.  He didn’t care what the words meant.  It was her voice and her presence that held him intoxicated, like a drug that had taken over his body.  He had no control and he didn’t care because it was relaxing and comforting, erasing all thoughts from his mind. 
“Aren’t you curious?” her English broke through his trance.
“Tell me,” he replied.
“Lauretta loves Rinuccio, but there’s trouble between their families that threatens them being together,” she explained.
“Sort of like us?” he asked.
“She sings this to her father,” Sophia continued, ignoring him.  “She wishes to die if she can’t be with Rinuccio.”
“Why doesn’t your father like me?” he persisted.
“He’s set in the old ways.  He wishes me to marry Giancarlo,” she said.
Giancarlo.  His rival.  The tall, muscular young Italian, with model good looks and a chiseled face.  The one who had his eyes on every female he passed, yet seemed to look straight through Sophia with impatience and disinterest.  Why would a father want that for his daughter?  He knew there would be no happiness for Sophia in a marriage such as that one.
Sì, sì, ci voglio andare! E se l’amassi indarno, andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!
She continued to sing in his ear but his mood had changed.  His future didn’t include Sophia, as he knew she wouldn’t defy her father. The aria didn’t exactly tell their story but he felt the pleas to a father to understand how a daughter loved were about him.
On the day Sophia married Giancarlo, he left Rome, never to return.  It was a good thing he hadn’t tossed a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain, he remembered.  He had no desire to ever go back.
Searing pain ripped through his chest, his attention on the present yet he still sensed the woman nearby.  He seemed to be in a hospital room, reclining on a bed with shadows standing around him.  The pain was unbearable.  He faintly heard the steady beeping of a machine somewhere.  Was that his heart beating?  Was he dying?  The shadows shuffled, merging together then parting into several forms.  It was getting harder to breathe, but he felt light for some reason and the pain started to recede.
Then the beeps were replaced by the music.  The lovely aria played through his head while his surroundings turned white, the shadows disappearing.  He saw her clearly as she stepped forward, her eyes just as bright as he’d remembered.  She took his hand and he walked with her.  He had no pain and he felt the youth of sixty years ago with the woman he loved walking beside him.
O Mio Babbino Caro, no more.

©Veronica Randolph Batterson

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Estate Sales of the Future...Strip Before Entering

For many years, I've enjoyed attending estate sales.  When I owned an antiques business, a great deal of my merchandise came from these sales and from auctions.  Since I closed my business, I no longer spend weekends searching for treasures to resell, but I do occasionally attend a sale if I have time.  Sometimes it's just the thrill of the search for me and I do find things that are personal and I keep them for myself.  Mostly, I enjoy the history behind the items and sometimes the homes that I see.

It seems estate sales aren't what they used to be.  Attending one recently left me with little, if any, desire to step foot in another one.  Upon reaching the front entrance of the sale, potential customers were bombarded with signs that had been taped all over the screened porch.  The estate sale company listed so many "dos, don'ts and warnings" that I wondered if we'd be searched upon entering.  Close.

Entering wasn't easy.  Handbags weren't allowed inside.  All purses were to remain in your vehicle, the sign had read.  Grumbling, I made my way to the car, stashed my purse and went back to the house.  I sarcastically thought they wouldn't want me to leave my money in the car, now would they?  This better be worth it, I griped further.

Once given the "yea" to enter, I immediately had to remove my shoes.  This isn't unusual, but it's not a request I like.  The potential for stepping on something sharp (nails, needles, pins, thumbtacks, etc) that's fallen on the floor in these homes is great.  Add a little rust, and well, I'm sure no one would like that risk.  Plus, no one "attends" the shoes. There is always a great pile of footwear by the door and if someone leaving likes a particular pair of boots (that do not belong to said person), then who's to stop her/him from putting them on and walking out?  This is a likely problem.

After removing the shoes, it was on to the next "station".  A lady working for the estate sale company asked me to remove my jacket.  What?  "Too many small items in this house will tempt shoplifters," she said.  "I'm not a shoplifter," I replied.  "Well, jackets aren't allowed," came the response.  By this time I was getting pretty mouthy.  "Then if there are shoplifters, will you guarantee my leather jacket will be here when I return to get it?" I asked.  She wasn't amused but said it would be.  I couldn't stop myself but went further, "My jeans have pockets.  Should I remove them, too?"  The woman didn't find that amusing either.

Once past the layer of security, I continued to think that my efforts had better be worth it.  Surely, there must be true antiques or vintage items of value.  Even priceless, right?  Why else would they make us go through all of this?  Usually if there are small and valuable items for sale, those items are "held" behind a table or enclosure, manned by an employee, and available to view if asked.  But that might be too logical, and besides, I'd just entered "Fort Knox".  The search was on.

And the search was over just as I stepped into that first room.  I think I gasped, but I'm not sure because I eventually realized my mouth was gaping open...a little hard to do both, but I might've gasped first.  Looking around, I thought I'd entered a home that was on the verge of being featured in an episode of "Hoarders".  Not quite there, but close.  If there was anything of value, and that was doubtful, you had to dig to find it.  Lots of plastic, and opened packages of figurines (think California Raisin dudes and the like).  For the life of me, I was trying to figure out why a shoplifter would bother.  If anyone was going to steal anything, they'd be doing the estate sale company a favor.  I didn't see many purchases being made.

Thankfully, my jacket and shoes were as I left them, I didn't have to go through a "pat-down" before I left, and I complained all the way to the car (without buying anything).  Of all the experiences I'd been through attending these sales, this was probably the worst.

Surprisingly, they hadn't enforced the cash only rule, as many estate sale companies do now.  As a former business owner, I understand not wishing to pay credit card fees, but it's the nature of doing business in my opinion. As is the risk of dealing with shoplifters.  You just don't treat everyone as a potential thief.  Imagine the outrage if a national retailer, such as Macy's, made you shed your clothing before you were allowed in their store, simply because you "might be tempted" to steal something.

As for cash only...it might work for small sales, but there are sales with high end items (furniture, cars, electronics, fine jewelry) sporting price tags.  A little difficult to deal with if you don't know the area, or where the nearest ATM might be.  Imagine getting a wad of cash and reaching the door of the estate sale I just described.  What?  I can't take my purse in?  Well, that's no problem.  I'll just stick the money in my shoe (something I did as a kid when I went to amusement parks).  I have to remove my shoes?  Well, I'll just stick the money in my jacket pocket.  What?  No jackets?  Well, what am I am going to do with my money?  I have no pockets on my pants.  The next logical place for a woman?  The bra, of course!  Hope that no one pays attention if something makes an appearance that shouldn't while you're fisting around the front of your neckline to pay for that lamp.

All of the above is in fun, but it does show how ridiculous it's become to attend these sales.  Estate sale companies should stop taking themselves so seriously.  I sometimes wonder what's next.  Strip search, metal detectors, body scanners?  Yeah, those California Raisin dudes are sure worth it.   

Monday, June 3, 2013

It Isn't Called Plymouth Boulder

Parade along the Freedom Trail
Summer has arrived, even though the weather contradicts this for some of us, and holiday vacation plans are in full swing. In a month, those of us in the US will find ways to celebrate this nation's Independence Day.  The week surrounding the July 4th holiday will see people traveling to beaches, the mountains or across town to be with family.  Some remain home to enjoy cookouts and fireworks with friends.

I've enjoyed and celebrated this time in many locations over the years.  Looking back, I think one of the best places to spend July 4th is in the city of Boston.  Where else to honor and celebrate our nation's history than in the city where patriotism began?  Find yourself along the Freedom Trail on that day and you become part of the reenactments, mingling with and watching costumed actors recreate parades and the excitement of the period.  At the Old State House, you can hear the Declaration of Independence read from the balcony, something that was done for the public for the first time at this same location on July 18, 1776.

Marker for Paul Revere's gravesite
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile walk that features sixteen historically significant sites to see.  Some include Faneuil Hall, Boston Common (America's oldest public park), Granary Burying Ground (Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin's parents are buried here) and King's Chapel.  The site of the Boston Massacre is marked along the trail, along with Paul Revere's house (which is open for tours), Old North Church (remember the "One if by land, two if by sea" significance, with the two lamps actually proclaiming the start of the American Revolution), the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution, also known as "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812.  Finish the day by enjoying the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Celebration at the Charles River Esplanade.  My family and I enjoyed all of this several years ago, yet thunderstorms prevented us from celebrating the fireworks show outdoors that year. It was the only downside of the day. 

Plymouth Rock
Of course, Boston has much more to offer and it's within easy driving distance to other historical areas, which really brings me to the title of this post.  Plymouth, Massachusetts is approximately 40 miles south of Boston and is the home of a symbolic piece of American history.  Plymouth Rock is viewed as the point where the Mayflower Pilgrims first stepped ashore in 1620.  Seeing it was special but I admit to having a "that's it?" moment.  The rock and its meaning serve as a foundation for this country's history. Anticipation of seeing something so great and significant perhaps hurt the fact that the actual size of the rock didn't measure up to the legend behind it.  I was expecting a boulder, but it was actually a large rock.  In all fairness, it supposedly was a boulder at the time.  According to Wikipedia: "During the rock's many journeys throughout the town of Plymouth, numerous pieces of the rock were taken, bought and sold. It is estimated that the original rock weighed 20,000 lbs." That, the tide and the fact the rock had been split in half at one time significantly reduced the size.  It's still worth the visit to see this piece of history.  Just remember the significance behind it.

Salem, Massachusetts
We took time to drive the entire New England area on that trip, including a stop in Salem, MA, a little over twenty miles north of Boston.  With the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 the theme of the town, of course we had to visit the Salem Witch Museum.  "The House of the Seven Gables" is also in Salem and open for tours. It's credited with inspiring Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name.  Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are also stunning areas to see.  Our route for the rest of New England took us through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont (I highly recommend the quaint town of Woodstock, Vermont), Connecticut and Rhode Island (there aren't many who can resist Newport, RI and touring those "cottages").  New England is such a beautiful area of the country.  I'd like to visit again in the fall, a time of year I've never been.

Even though I sound as if I'm working for the Boston Tourism office (I'm not), if you're looking for a place to go next month, or even next year at this time, consider this great city.  Better yet, check the Boston tourism site and www.thefreedomtrail.org for a schedule of events.  It truly is one of America's greatest cities and you'll certainly feel the patriotism on such a patriotic holiday.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Daniel's Esperanza

I thought I'd give an update regarding the status of my latest novel, Daniel's Esperanza.  It is complete but I'm researching new publishing options, which takes time.  The manuscript is out and being reviewed by several sources and I hope to have some news soon.  However, if I do go with a new publisher, it could still take awhile before the book is published.  I'm impatient but there isn't much I can do at this point.

Since I've revealed the title in this post, I would like to say Daniel's Esperanza is written for the adult reader.  I've strayed from my previous books, which were middle grade fiction, and tried something new.  I'm very proud of the final product, which I wrote with a sequel in mind.  I'm now outlining the continuing story and can't wait to begin writing.

Being rather superstitious, I'm not comfortable revealing the plot before publication even though the copyright is secured.  I have mentioned research for the book took me to New Mexico and a wild horse sanctuary, but that's all I will divulge now.  Hopefully, waiting will make the story that much more enjoyable.

Thanks to all who take the time to read my blog posts.  It is appreciated.  I do hope publication isn't delayed too much longer.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Charing Cross

As I've done in a couple of blog posts, I would like to share a short story I wrote a few years ago.  If you're an Anglophile, or if you like history and/or the paranormal, perhaps you'll enjoy Charing Cross.  Thanks for taking the time to read my work and, as always, copyright applies.  (©Veronica Randolph Batterson)

Charing Cross

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

The bookshop was isolated, its location hidden from the steady stream of traffic along Charing Cross Road.  That gave it an appealing quality, and each time I visited, I felt I’d found something in London no one else had discovered.
Entering the shop was similar to taking a step back in time; a dust coated interior, dim lighting and dated titles along the bookshelves greeted you.  As an American tourist, I found it a welcome alternative to the bookstore chains.  It was a pleasure to spend a few rainy hours discovering the hidden treasures in the little bookshop called Charing Cross.
It was one such overcast afternoon that I found myself perusing the shelves once again.  The storms had started and the steady sound of raindrops pelting the front window of the shop was soothing.  I made my way to the rear of the building and set the few books I was carrying on top of a table.  As I did so, I noticed a gentleman sitting nearby.  His posture was bent; he slumped forward and had white, unkempt hair.  He was dressed in a faded, military-like overcoat that obscured his build, yet he appeared small in stature.
The man was engrossed in a book, and as I turned away, he sighed heavily.  He seemed distraught at what he was reading and kept his face lowered over the pages.  Then small sobs shook his body.  Tentatively, I approached the man and asked if there was something I could do for him.  His cries ended then and he looked directly at me, yet I felt he didn’t see me.  His stare was sorrowful, but his gaze seemed to go through me.  Worried, I sought the bookshop owner.
“There is no one else in here besides you, love,” he said behind the counter at the front of the shop, making no move to assist me.  “I have been sitting here for quite some time, and you have been the only one to enter.”
The proprietor peered at me over the top of his small-framed spectacles, which rested on the bridge of his nose.  Turning back to the newspaper he was reading, he moved a magnifying glass slowly over the print and I wondered just how poor his eyesight was.   Perhaps the strange man had slipped in unnoticed.  Looking at the doorway, I glimpsed the small bell that jingled delicately announcing arrivals and departures.  I then doubted the shopkeeper would miss the man had he entered.
The shop owner probably viewed me as something of an oddity because I visited so regularly.  Most tourists were sightseeing the city’s well-known attractions, but I was continually drawn to the charm of Charing Cross.  Oddly, I had yet to make a purchase.  Attempting several times, it seemed that each book I tried to buy wasn’t for sale.  I began to wonder how the shop stayed in business.  Rarely did I see any customers.  Regardless of what the shopkeeper thought of me, I knew that there was a distraught man in the back of the bookshop and I was determined to help him.
Wondering how I might approach the gentleman, I made my way back to where he had been.  However, when I reached the table, the man was gone.  Searching every aisle, I found no trace of him.  Returning to the empty table, I noticed the book he had been reading.  It was old, as were all of the books in the shop, but the cover on it was worn and ragged from use.  It was difficult to make out the title.  It appeared open to the page the man had been reading and I wondered if it might give clues as to what had upset him.  It showed only a faded image of a child playing.  The caption underneath read:
“Horatia Nelson, daughter of Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton.  Lady Hamilton died penniless and Horatia never wished to acknowledge she was Lady Hamilton’s child.  She took great pride, however, in being the daughter of Britain’s greatest hero.”
There were other books on the table.  Each one of them had something to do with Horatio Nelson, his daughter Horatia, and Lady Emma Hamilton.  I sat down and began reading the pages.
“Admiral Lord Nelson was one of Britain’s most famous war heroes.  He died in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar against Napolean Bonaparte.  Lady Emma Hamilton, his mistress, gave birth to their daughter Horatia in 1801.  Admiral Lord Nelson, upon his death, provided for the future of Lady Hamilton and asked his constituents to look out for Horatia and Lady Hamilton’s affairs.  Possibly due to the fact that Nelson was married to someone else, as was Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s counterparts never acknowledged Horatia or her mother.  As a result of Lady Hamilton’s extravagant lifestyle, she died penniless and even spent time in debtors’ prison.  Horatia, it was said, never knew for certain if Lady Hamilton was her mother, as Lady Hamilton never acknowledged that fact to her child, preferring to allow her daughter to think she was adopted.  Once presented with the name of her mother, Horatia refused to believe it.  Lady Hamilton died in 1815 while her daughter lived a very long life until 1881.”
I immediately thought of Trafalgar Square and the column that stood proudly commemorating Admiral Lord Nelson.  Searching the bookshop once more, I still found no sign of the gentleman.  I then left the shop and made my way south along Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square.  As usual, the great square was filled with people and pigeons, while the massive bronze lions appeared to guard Nelson’s statue.  I had been there dozens of times, but something stirred me into visiting again.  It was unexplained and I couldn’t pinpoint why; perhaps it was for the same reason I was drawn to Charing Cross.  At any rate, I found myself searching the crowd.
A movement caught my eye and I saw it was the sorrowful man from the bookshop.  He was wandering through the crowd, weaving between people feeding the birds and children who were playing tag.  The man kept moving, apparently with no intended destination.  He looked to be very short and was oblivious to those around him.  The crowd appeared unaware of him as well.  It seemed that I was the only one who had taken notice of the stranger.  I followed him and when I was within just a few feet of the man, I attempted to say something.  However, a pigeon flew a bit too close to me, causing me to stumble and take my eyes from their target.  When I regained my balance, I had lost sight of him.  It seemed he’d just vanished before my eyes.
             I decided I’d endured enough adventure for the day, but the image of the man troubled me, and my thoughts wandered as I walked home.  The drizzling rain continued and I was thankful to finally open the door of the flat I was leasing.  The rhythmic ticking of the mantelpiece clock greeted me as I shrugged out of the rain slicker, dripping water in small puddles on the tile floor.
I relayed my experience to a British friend later and he joked that I had encountered the spirit of Lord Nelson.
“It must have troubled him greatly that his poor Emma and little daughter hadn’t been looked after as he’d wanted.  I guess when he read it in the books, it upset him,” Nigel grinned.  “You would’ve known if it were Lord Nelson.  His right arm was amputated due to a war injury.”
It must have been the look on my face that caused Nigel to sound alarmed.  I assured him I was fine, but the memory of the man troubled me even more.  I was convinced I had noticed his right sleeve was pinned to his shirt, although at the time I just assumed his arm was tucked inside his coat.  The thought made me determined to go back to the little bookshop on Charing Cross, although I knew it must be closed for the day.  Nigel decided to come with me.
“What’s the name of the shop?” he asked, as he struggled to keep up with my strides.
“Charing Cross,” I replied.
“Oh, that’s a well known place for rare books.  I’ve been there a few times myself,” he said.
Nigel took the lead, yet as we reached Charing Cross Road, he traveled in the opposite direction from where I knew the bookshop to be. As I tried to convince him of this, we reached the place he had indicated.  This particular establishment was indeed Charing Cross Bookshop, but it wasn’t the same bookstore I had frequented. 
“This isn’t the place.  The bookshop I went to was called Charing Cross.  This is Charing Cross Bookshop.  Obviously, there are two different shops,” I insisted.
I knew the store to be a little farther north, so we began walking.  The weather had cleared and it was no longer drizzling.  The sun was setting and the sky became a palette of color.  I suddenly recalled that each time I had visited the bookshop, it had been raining.  I’d never really noticed that before and absently mentioned it to Nigel.
We crossed the street and approached the storefront.  Although, when we reached where I was certain the bookshop to be, it wasn’t there.  Another store with an entirely different name graced that corner.  Confused, I turned about, checking the cross street, and each landmark, and I was certain that Charing Cross had been there just hours before.
“It’s not here,” I stammered.
“Maybe we’re in the wrong block.  It’s easy to get turned around,” Nigel said.
“It’s not in another block,” I cried.  “It was right here!”
We stood together silently, looking at the space where I knew with all my being Charing Cross had been.  Reluctantly, I allowed myself to be directed up and down both sides of Charing Cross Road and we never located the little bookshop I had so enjoyed.  Its address would’ve been exactly as I had said, so I knew it pointless to look elsewhere; however, I was in no mood to argue.
“You don’t suppose you encountered a time portal, do you?” Nigel asked.
I stared blankly at my friend.  His red sweater was unraveling at the bottom and a small hole was visible near the neck.  I made a mental note of a possible birthday gift for him and focused my attention on what he had just said.  Anything was possible, I reasoned, but a time portal was something that seemed far-fetched.  Yet how much more out of the ordinary was a time portal compared to a non-existent bookshop and the ghost of Britain’s greatest war hero?  Since it appeared my bookshop had disappeared into thin air, the explanation seemed plausible.
“But how do you explain the fact that every time I visited, except for this particular time, the shop had been here?” I asked.
“Think about when you came by.  Didn’t you mention you had never been here when it hadn’t been raining?  Maybe that has something to do with it,” he said.
“You mean the portal is open only when it’s raining?  And somehow I step through that time link and that’s when the bookshop appears?”  I asked skeptically.
Nigel nodded enthusiastically.  It might also explain why I’d never been able to buy any of the books in the store. However, I still wasn’t eager to completely embrace his line of thinking.  At least one question remained. 
“How would you explain the gentleman?  Not only did I see him in the bookshop, but he was also wandering around Trafalgar Square.  If he was part of a time portal, then how did I see him outside of it?” I asked.
“Joking aside, what if the man had been Nelson?  What if, by some strange fate, you came upon his apparition in that old bookshop, and for whatever reason, his spirit led you to Trafalgar Square?” Nigel asked.
“It makes no sense,” I replied.
“It makes perfect sense to me.  Try coming back when it’s raining and see if your old shop is here again,” my friend said.
The weather was dreary and the sky looked as if it would drop buckets of rain at any moment.  The air was damp and cold and a light drizzle moistened my face as I made my way to Charing Cross Road.  Most people would wish for clearer skies, but I was so happy with the current conditions that it took great resolve not to skip the rest of the way.  Nigel was accompanying me and the look on his face mirrored my feelings.  He, too, would’ve been greatly disappointed if the sun had suddenly decided to peek through the clouds and make an appearance.
We were getting closer and my heart was pounding so loudly I could hear nothing else.  The rain was coming down heavily at that point and much of the pedestrian traffic hurriedly sought shelter.  We crossed the street and I was almost afraid to look.  I was soaked and shivering and I was suddenly aware of taking Nigel’s hand in mine.
As we stepped upon the sidewalk, I noticed a subtle change in my surroundings, something I had not recognized before.  The walk was cobblestone and the lanterns that framed the door of the shop hung unlit in the daylight.  I peered closely at the storefront façade and, just as my friend had said, there before us stood Charing Cross.
As we made our way inside, I wondered if I might encounter the distraught little man once again.  The thought of it being the ghost of Horatio Nelson was appealing.  Would I discover some reason I might have crossed paths with this wandering soul?
Suddenly I questioned what would happen if we remained inside the little bookshop when the rain ceased.  Would we find ourselves trapped in the past?  I looked out the front window as the rain continued to pour.  Perhaps it would let up soon, I thought. I made my way to the back of the shop in search of Admiral Lord Nelson, secretly hoping that on both accounts the results would prove favorable.

(©Veronica Randolph Batterson)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fountaindale Public Library Author Fair

The Fountaindale Public Library will hold its annual Author Fair on Saturday, April 13, 2013 in Bolingbrook, Illinois.  I'll be attending with a host of other authors, representing many genres, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Stop by if you're in the area and say hello.  I will have copies of my books, Billy's First Dance and Funny Pages, for sale and will be happy to sign them, as well.  My latest novel has yet to be published, but I have information to share about it...it's coming soon.

The Fountaindale Public Library is located at 300 W. Briarcliff Road, Bolingbrook, IL  60440.

Thanks in advance and I'm looking forward to meeting some new folks.  As always, it's great to support your local library.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where the Red Fern Grows

If I could recommend one children's book that all adults should read, it would be Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows.  Set in the Ozarks, the wonderful story was introduced to me in elementary school by a teacher, Miss Wilder (I never knew her first name), and the personalities of Old Dan and Little Ann still warm my heart.

Originally published in 1961, the tale is one of simpler times but the life lessons are relevant today.  Or they should be.   Some people could learn a great deal from the fictional character, Billy Coleman.  At age ten, Billy teaches us that working hard and saving his money for something he wants, but doesn't need, is worth the wait.  When he finally makes his big purchase, the "package" he's been working nearly two years for makes its arrival in the form of a couple of squirming Redbone Coonhound dogs.

Calling the hounds Old Dan and Little Ann, Billy and his dogs become inseparable.  He cares for them and trains them, watching in wonder as the dogs' instincts prove them superior in doing what they were born to do...hunt.  This causes conflict with the competition.

While the story is heartwarming, the strength of character shown by such a young boy stays with the reader.  Loyalty, compassion, responsibility and love are reflected through Billy's actions with his dogs and family.  You root for Billy and his hounds. 

While I won't give away the ending, you will need that tissue box.  However, the author softens the tragedy by introducing us to the Native American legend of the sacred red fern.  It provides acceptance, closure and allows us and Billy to move on.

Where the Red Fern Grows is over two hundred pages in paperback.  Amazon indicates the book is for ages eight and up, but I might classify it as being for middle grade kids.  If you wish your younger child to read it, I would suggest parents read the story first for content, or better yet, read the story to your children.  I shared it with my daughters when they were younger.  If you don't have children, it's still a good story.  Good children's books aren't just for children.

By the way, a movie was made from the story many years ago.  My advice?  Skip it and pick up the book instead.  You will feel and see Billy and his dogs through Wilson Rawls' words.  Those visuals and emotions are lost in the movie's translation.